U.S., Colombian authorities break up sex-trafficking ring with underage boys and girls

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

 (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

In a joint operation between the United States and Colombia, in recent days authorities broke up a major sex-trafficking ring that used drugs to force underage boys and girls into prostitution.

Police arrested 11 Colombians in the cities of Armenia, Cartagena and Medellin and rescued 55 sex-trafficking victims, one as young as 11, the country’s chief prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.

The ring operated out of clandestine sites and massage parlors, frequently relying on taxi drivers to bring in foreign clients looking for underage sex, prosecutors said. Some of the young people were drugged with ecstasy and cocaine.

During the raids, an 11-year-old girl broke down in tears, saying she had been sold for $1,000 because was a virgin, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in a statement.

“It’s unconscionable that people engage in the sexual trafficking of innocent children,” said Homeland Security Investigations attaché in Colombia, Luis Sierra, in a statement. “Through this successful bilateral operation, the U.S. and Colombia are sending a clear message that we will go to any length to identify and catch the monsters that exploit our vulnerable children.”

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U.S. law enforcement authorities also arrested a man in the United States who allegedly traveled to Medellin to have sex and film himself with underage prostitutes.

Two U.S. nonprofit groups dedicated to eradicating sexual exploitation of children, Breaking Chains and Underground Railroad, assisted in the case.

All the victims are now in the care of Colombia's child protection agency. The Colombian defendants face between five and 20 years imprisonment if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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